Pac-12 Football: 5 Surprising Standouts of Spring Practice
Newcomers and returning role players throughout the Pac-12 are using spring football practices to lay the foundation for 2014.
Not all of the conference's teams have started offseason workouts—North and South divisional favorites Oregon and UCLA begin April 1—but those teams that have convened for the spring are seeing some standouts emerge.
Arizona State LB D.J. Calhoun
El Cerrito (Calif.) 4-star linebacker prospect D.J. Calhoun was one of the standouts in Arizona State's 2014 signing class. An early enrollee, Calhoun isn't waiting to make an impact.
Calhoun could be working his way into a role in an Arizona State defense facing heavy turnover. Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham certainly likes his effort, as he told FoxSports.com.
That guy is impressive. He can run, move, cover. He's going to be special. We're excited about him. We threw him in [to first string workouts at the spur position], and I thought he showed up, had a great spirit about him.
USC TE Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick
New USC head coach Steve Sarkisian promised an offense that prominently features the tight end as a pass-catcher during his introductory press conference last December, via USCTrojans.com. Indeed, Sarkisian's recent Washington teams relied heavily on talented Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
Tight ends have long played an integral role at USC, but the early departure of Xavier Grimble to the NFL and Randall Telfer's injury left the Trojans with questions going into spring practice.
Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick is answering some of those questions in initial workouts.
"Jalen has really focused himself on trying to come out and have a good spring," Sarkisian said per USCTrojans.com. "He got opportunities today to make plays down the field and he made them."
Arizona CB Devin Holiday
Cornerback Devin Holiday worked his way into a reserve role on Arizona's defense in his true freshman season, playing in all 13 games. With secondary stalwart Shaquille Richardson gone, Holiday has a big opportunity to make the leap from first-year back-up to sophomore starter.
"He was a lot more nervous than he let on [as a freshman] but going into the second year is so much different," Rodriguez said. "Especially for the guys that played because they’ve been there, done that."
Holiday's growing confidence and spring performance should serve as a springboard into his second season.
Utah LB Gionni Paul
Miami transfer Gionni Paul garnering attention early into the Utes' spring practice season isn't a surprise, given that he was the Hurricanes' third-leading tackler in 2012.
The intriguing storyline is that Paul is establishing himself as a leader of the stout Utah defense.
Paul described his departure from Miami to The Deseret News: "The fast life got to me. I had a lot of growing up to do."
From having room to mature to becoming a team leader, Paul is positioning himself to make an impact for the 2014 Utes.
Stanford DL Aziz Shittu
Aziz Shittu saw limited action in his first two seasons as a reserve defensive lineman for the Cardinal, but practicing with and against one of the nation's best units seemingly prepared him to step in when the time came.
Shittu is practicing on the interior line with nose tackle David Parry nursing an abdominal injury, which CardnialSportsReport.com writes will have him "in and out a little bit" throughout the spring. Shittu is capitalizing on the opportunity, according to Stanford head coach David Shaw.
"The way he's playing right now—how physical he is and how fast and athletic he is, how explosive he is and the effort that's he giving—he gives us a versatility," Shaw said via GoStanford.com.
The Cardinal return lineman Parry, Henry Anderson and Blake Lueders from the outstanding 2013 defense, but Shittu is working into a prominent role with his ability to take on different positions.
"He's showing us this spring he can play that if needs to, he can play nose. He can play end. He can play outside, he can play inside and that's what we saw when he recruited him," Shaw added.